When I was in the 4th grade I had to do a two page “research project” over someone I considered to be a hero. Never one to conform to the latest agenda of the public school system, I veered off the beaten path and did my project over The Sultan of Swat, The Colossus of Clout, The King of Crash, The Titan of Terror, THE GREAT BAMBINO, George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr.
Now at this stage of my academic career I was still an incredible teacher’s pet. My personal mission was to rack up any and all academic praise and achievement possible, especially the favor of the teacher. I was also at this time just getting fully immersed into my obsession with baseball. I was playing summer and winter little league, religiously following SportsCenter, and devouring any baseball literature I could get my hands on. So you can imagine the eagerness I had to present my little project, and I’m sure you can also imagine the promptness with which my teacher shot down my project for not fitting into the neat little narrative she was trying to promote. You see, we had a guest speaker that day come and talk to us about character traits, role models and the like, and when I shot my hand up and gave my little spiel on The Babe, the guest speaker pounced on my efforts with a voracity not seen since the days of the media attacks on George W. Bush. She criticized choosing a sports figure for a role model because they rarely display the sort of personality traits one should look for in a hero, cautioned against being so whimsical in picking a role model, mocked my naivete for thinking Mr Ruth was someone to get excited about, and offered better more wholesome heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank, or any one of your other generic public school curriculum approved heroes. Come to think of it, had I gone with Che Guevara she probably would have applauded my forward thinking and progressiveness.
Where this woman, where many, particularly those on the historical whitewashing Progressive Left fail, is assuming all of our heroes must achieve immortality.
What this woman failed to realize during her rant though, besides that she had just started me on a trail of perpetual anti school agenda thinking, she can probably be credited with creating the radical constitutional conservative I am today, is that I didn’t pick Babe Ruth because I loved his politics, or his morals, or his charity work. I picked him because he is the greatest player of all time, and I love baseball. Heck, I was dead convinced I was going to play pro baseball up until High School. Where this woman, where many, particularly those on the historical whitewashing Progressive Left fail, is assuming all of our heroes must achieve immortality. Too often they misconstrue hero with messiah. Had she thought to ask me what my standard of heroics were, I would have been more than happy to tell her my criteria is not universal. One must not be divine to be a hero in my eyes. Benjamin Franklin is a political hero of mine, as are George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and while their nation building efforts are second to none, their personal traits leave one searching for another to fill the shoes they cannot. Those we welcome into the halls of heroics, of the elevated status to be praised and studied and emulated for years to come, must to far too many people be passed through an increasingly tougher litmus test, and those already dwelling in these halls are not immune from being evicted if with each test they fall shorter and shorter of the golden standard of role model.
Recently, ESPN published an extensive article from writer Wright Thompson about Tiger Woods and the years following his father Earle’s death. It is exquisitely written, in depth, provocative, and thought provoking beyond mere analysis of Tiger. The link to the article is here and I encourage all of you to read it because not only is it a principle inspiration for this post but it is such a wonderful read. Mr. Thompson discusses the struggle Tiger faced following his father’s death, and after reading it I found myself idolizing Tiger even more. What he describes in his piece is not the bloodthirsty, cold, relentless Tiger that ESPN and every other media outlet spent over a decade portraying, but rather Wright presents a man not quite prepared for his place in life, reeling from the cataclysmic disruption felt at the loss of his father, who searches for himself in more than just golf. Wright made me connect with Tiger, for the insecurity and uncertainty he described is so relate-able it made me want to look him up in the phone book and just go give him a hug, just go be his friend and tell him he’s not alone in the world. To struggle with the things I’ve struggled with and still be able to express his talent and his genius through the game of golf makes Tiger worthy of enshrinement, despite the litany of people who have already excommunicated him from golf immortality.
Tiger Woods is just one example of an imperfect hero, a flawed role model. Tiger goes to show that if you’re looking for someone to model your relationship life after, it may not be your best bet to start looking on the golf course, though to many people I’m sure that’s obvious as Tiger never set out to be the best married person of all time. However, if you’re looking for someone to emulate that has overcome incredible self imposed mental anguish, someone who is so chronically self aware (me) that they still lose sleep over decades old transgressions (me) then Tiger is your guy. He is the perfect example that no one but Christ should be worthy of complete imitation, but that in even the most flawed people there is admiration to be found.
When we choose our heroes, we pick people whom we believe possess something essential to the betterment of humankind. One need not be perfect to meet this standard, for none are perfect but one, and it is only through Him that we should seek guidance in all aspects, though I’m not sure what Jesus would have to say about hitting more fairways. For the rest of us, let us seek completeness rather than perfection; and let us seek a multitude of individuals to sample here and there, dabbling in their personalities rather than trying to mold them universally to every aspect of our lives.